Ramy Youssef breaks down Ramy season 2, from Mahershala Ali to Mia Khalifa
Once you've completed the new season, read the creator and star go deep on it all.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Ramy season 2.
Will these words to Ramy from his exasperated teacher Sheikh Ali be enough to wake him up?
Hulu recently released season 2 of Ramy Youssef's Golden Globe-winning series Ramy, and the dark, funny, wildly entertaining 10 episodes found the title character searching for true spiritual connection and growth. It seemed like he found that in his relationship with the sheikh (Mahershala Ali) and subsequent marriage to his daughter, Zainab (MaameYaa Boafo). But it all fell apart as quickly as it came together, with Ramy essentially sabotaging himself by revealing his sexual history with his cousin Amani (Rosaline Elbay), with whom he had just been unfaithful the night before his wedding. As the extended finale ended, Ramy had nothing and no one — besides his rescue dog, Boomer, and an imprisoned man's car.
Episode 1, "bay'ah"
Struggling since his return from Egypt, Ramy is convinced to visit the local Sufi Center and meet with Sheikh Ali. "I feel like I have this hole inside of me that's always been there," Ramy says in their powerful one-on-one, confessing that he's tried to fill that hole with porn, sex, and God.
"It was not the very first scene that [Ali and I] shot together. We built up to this day, because that scene at the end of the first episode is the show to me. Like, I made this show to have that scene, in many ways. You have this person in Ramy who feels like he wants to find the answer but also feels like he has all this baggage, and then you have this man who has been transformed by faith and really embodies the teachings of the faith. And he's telling Ramy, 'I've heard everything that you've done and I still think you should be my student and [that] you can do this. There is mercy here.' And so there's something about that love and the ability to do that, like that's what the show is about. So I definitely didn't want to shoot that scene first. [Laughs] I think we shot that during Mahershala's second week."
Ramy's big breakthrough with the sheikh comes when he finally reveals that he had sex with his cousin Amani during his visit to Egypt.
"Ramy is such a seeker, and he's really looking for answers, but sometimes I think he's actually more into the verb or the action of seeking as opposed to actually finding the answer. Because finding the answer would mean some sort of permanence, and it would be really making a choice. And I think his cousin is a seeker too, and they really connect in the type of way they're connecting spiritually. We end up finding out more about why they dissolved in the finale, but so much of what happened in that relationship is Ramy coming up against having to make a real choice and being really afraid. We had a lot of ideas about where it could go in season 2, and then it became really clear that season 1 was very aspirational for Ramy but that season 2 had to be transformational, and we had to really see him make those changes. And I think the only way to really show his problem and him having to deal with those changes was to have him mess something up that could have been really good for him."
Episode 2, "can you hear me?"
Ramy immediately goes all in on the sheikh's teachings — much to the annoyance of his friends and family, who say he always takes everything to the extreme. And this leads him to befriend a homeless white veteran named Dennis (Jared Abrahamson), who ends up converting to Islam after Ramy gets him a job at the center.
"In many ways, we're all Dennis, even someone like me. I think there's a lot of residual guilt over how America, or any country, conducts itself in wartime. So he's really like a manifestation of that and the buried feeling that a lot of people have. Ramy's willingness to help him is very genuine, and Dennis' willingness to want to be transformed is really genuine. Dennis is very similar to Ramy, like he also wants to be new. He really wants that chance, he wants the ability to change, and so it was really exciting for us to get to craft the connection between these two characters and see how they transform each other in ways that are very unexpected."
Dennis is still suffering from the things he did and saw in the war, and that anger and violence come to a head when he attacks a protestor outside the center, leaving him bloodied and in a coma. The season finale ultimately reveals that the man dies from his injuries.
"It's about taking risks and having faith, like, 'Okay, this will still fit into our tone, into what we want to do.' As a show, we're straddling with a lot of different things, but it's really unified by there always being a level of emotional groundedness, whether we go dramatic or a little more ethereal or a little more abstract. Crafting this end with my producing-directing partner Chris [Storer], we were like, 'This should feel real,' because so much of this season was about Ramy facing some real consequences, and so we wanted this moment to feel that way. And it's also really funny to me. [Laughs] Like even though it's a really dark ending, it's also a white guy screaming 'Islam is a religion of peace!' and then beating the s— out of somebody. And also the idea that mosques have been contextualized under violence in all these weird ways, and then seeing it happen under this context was a really interesting thing to explore."
Episode 3, "little omar"
A now-imprisoned Dennis is worried about his dog, Boomer, being stuck in his abandoned car. After a night of looking, Ramy and the sheikh find Boomer, only for the sheik to say he doesn't think Ramy is ready for their relationship, and that he wants Boomer to be Ramy's teacher. The dog will live with the Hassans and become an important member of the family — even if he can't play basketball like Air Bud.
"There's this divide within a lot of Muslim communities of whether it's Islamically permissible to have a dog, or is it just cultural thing? It's one of the big debates that people go back and forth on. So it felt really interesting to me that we would have this dog, that obviously is this divisive thing, whichever direction it is that you go in, and then see the dog become this big part of the family, especially emotionally for the father. I remember my dad being super-opposed to getting a dog, and then he's like a building a shed for him and feeding him and taking him for walks and in love with the dog."
Episode 4, "miakhalifa.mov"
In the season's most hilariously absurd installment, Ramy teams up with Sheikh Ali's daughter, Zainab, to try to win back a rich donor who pulled his funding of the center after the Dennis incident. Upon arrival at the massive estate, Ramy notices a familiar face: porn star Mia Khalifa. She's there because the wealthy man found himself sexually fascinated by her breasts, so he decided the best way to be faithful to his religion was to buy her breast milk and drink it, thereby making her family. "I cannot jerk off to my own mother," he says.
"So much of this season talks about Ramy using sex and porn to emotionally divert and to not have to deal with intimacy issues that he's having. And so when you have a character who has a porn addiction, why not have a conversation with someone who is probably the most controversial porn star ever? We had an idea in season 1 that had involved her, but it never really made it. The funny thing is, we had an idea that it wasn't just her, but we were interested in this idea of people that you don't really think are Muslim. We actually cast Lindsay Lohan, because Lindsay had this whole thing about converting to Islam. And so we had cast Lindsay and I talked to her and she was down, and then, you know, like Lindsay does, we just kind of stopped hearing from her. [Laughs] I was trying to get ahold of her and she was on the call sheet, and I guess she couldn't make it. I don't know, I never heard from her. You can't try and put Lindsay in a box, that's what I know. Lindsay is going to be Lindsay. The door is open for her on season 3, and she is one of my favorite Muslims.
"But there was this conversation to be had. Again, I think this is a show about complicating the context of how we talk about these things, and as a country we're having a really big conversation about understanding sex, so it just felt really interesting to hear from a sex worker. I was very nervous to pitch her the idea, because I was like, 'Man, I don't know if she's going to want to do this.' I just had to gather my courage and get on the phone and be, 'All right, here's the email that I'm about to send you,' and she was like, 'Okay, I guess I'm going to have to read this,' and then she called me back and was just like, 'Yeah, I sent it to my sister, we were both reading it, we both laughed, we both think you have problems, and I'll see you next week.' [Laughs] She was really great to work with. She was a really, really kind person and did such a good job on the episode."
Ramy manages to convince the man to go through with his hefty donation, and in the process he also happens to win over Zainab. The episode ends with a baffled Sheikh Ali informing Ramy that she would like to pursue a relationship with him.
"On one hand they're an unlikely pairing, but then on the other hand they totally make sense in that she is so the person that Ramy would be attracted to, with his optimism and desire to be in that space. And I think for her, she can feel the sincerity in him and she sees the energy he brings to it. We're playing off the idea that someone who is a sheikh's daughter is treated with a little bit of celebrity status, and she's like, 'No, I just want a grounded experience. Maybe this person is a little bit messy, but at least it's a mess that I know, and there's no posturing or any of those things.' Unfortunately, she does come to find out that there is a ton of that."
Episode 5, "3riana grande"
Ramy's sister, Dena (May Calamawy), steps into the spotlight and gets one more eye on her than she'd like. After Dena posts on social media about earning a scholarship, her parents warn that it's bad luck to brag, believing it will bring on "the eye." Dena dismisses this, until she starts losing her hair, which causes an emotional spiral.
"First and foremost, what was really cool was that this episode came out of conversations that I had with May, who was experiencing alopecia and losing her hair. There's this bald spot on the back of her head that we show in the episode, and that's actually hers. I've been wanting to show a perspective of a character who has a different relationship with their faith. Ramy is obviously really aspiring, and for so many reasons Dena has this really contentious relationship with it. It felt really exciting to look at this other element of the faith and then blend it with something that was very personal to our actor. This is something that has massive cultural significance and brings up this question of, do things like this draw people closer to the faith or further from it? She puts on a scarf and feels like she needs to figure out something more spiritual and is doing things that she was opposed to doing, but she was doing it out of fear and stress. To bring that conversation forward and see her deal with that complication felt like a facet we really hadn't looked at before."
Episode 6, "they"
Last season found Ramy's mother, Maysa (Hiam Abbass), looking to get a life of her own by driving for Lyft, but that's taken away from her in season 2 when a complaint is made against her by a passenger. And the negative attention comes at the worst possible time considering she's on the verge of earning citizenship. She discovers that the passenger in question is a gender-fluid person who she offended.
"It felt very much like it spoke to what I think is a generational divide in trying to understand these issues — and this is very universal, not an immigrant family thing. If you talked to young kids, they don't even think gender is a big deal, and then if you talk to their parents and their grandparents, the world is ending. So I think this crosses all lines. I found it interesting to see a woman of her generation grappling with that and what it means about where she is, and how she has to deal with that as she's trying to achieve her goal. Maysa is trying to be part of this country and really wants her citizenship, and then there's someone who she really doesn't understand who is also part of this country. She really wants to be a part of the fabric of it, and in order to do it she needs to understand someone who in all facets of life is completely different from her. It just felt like a really American story for someone who wanted to be an American."
Episode 7, "atlantic city"
With Ramy and Zainab already close to marriage, his friends force him on an impromptu road trip to Atlantic City. Ramy's judgment of the environment gets them kicked out of a strip club, which is especially bad news for Steve (Steve Way), who says his medical condition makes it painful if he can't ejaculate. The weather makes it unlikely that a prostitute will arrive in time, leading Ramy to help him relieve that pain. Ramy wants to pray before doing it, but Steve won't let him, a decision that backfires when a woman shows up moments after they've completed the deed.
"Steve is technically in this season less but also not at all; it's such a moment for him. The Steve and Ramy relationship is so central to the show because they both feel so out of place, and they feel out of place together. And they also are in many cases shining certain things on each other that other people don't. I think the hole that Steve pokes in Ramy's way of living and his faith practice are so emblematic of Ramy's doubt and the things that do linger and are affecting him. And then the plea that Ramy makes to Steve to be a person of faith and to pray in the right way really challenge Steve, because he has to say, 'Well, if there is a God, why was I made like this?' It opens up all these other things that are difficult for Steve to grapple with.
"So this moment in the hotel where we're dealing with this really real thing that Steve is going through, this real pain, they both have to do something that neither of them wants to do, and it brings to a head that debate. Steve is like, 'Are you just doing this for your faith?' And then there's this moment where Steve doesn't let Ramy pray, and if Ramy had prayed they wouldn't have had to do the thing. Again, it kind of shows this thing in both of them, where Ramy is like, 'I wish had more faith and had just gone through with it,' and Steve is like, 'Wait, maybe I should have just let him do that and then we wouldn't have to be doing this.' It just felt like the most exciting thing for them to go through. And this again came out of a real conversation with Steve. We were FaceTiming with Steve in the writers' room and I was joking with everyone about how Steve will tell people about this pain that he has and it's my theory of why he's always had so many girlfriends. He was describing this real thing, and then one of our writers, Kate [Thulin], was like, 'Whenever you've been in a bind, have you ever considered asking Ramy to do it if there was no other option?' And Steve kind of had to pause, and then he was like, 'Well, I've never actually considered doing it but there was a small part of me that has thought about it for a second.' The second he said that, we were all like, 'Oh man, we have to do this.'"
Episode 9, "uncle naseem"
For the first time in the two seasons, Ramy's uncle, Naseem (Laith Nakli), is highlighted, and the penultimate episode reveals that behind the machismo and vulgar behavior is a man hiding a secret: Naseem is gay. He attempts to step out into the open a bit by visiting a gay club and going on a home date with Paco (Raymond Neil Hernandez), who he previously had been secretly hooking up with at the gym. Unfortunately, when Paco kisses him, Naseem reacts by punching him. The episode ends with Naseem on the street shoving cake in his mouth, a tear coming down his face as a version of "I Will Survive" plays.
"When we first meet Naseem, he's being super-homophobic and he puts on this machismo and masculinity. And hearing him talk about his ex-wife leaving him, we don't really understand what happened. It was something that we kind of floated but never fully committed to, but so much of this season was meeting people in their lonely places and where they had a lot of questions and needed to have conversations. It felt like where he was going, and it felt like really natural for the show to explore this. As is with anything discussing sexuality here, this to me is under the umbrella of American sexuality, not specifically Muslims. This is something that men of that generation are still figuring out and still dealing with. One of my good friends who is a filmmaker, Mike Mosallam, consulted on the episode, and we talked a lot about the character and gay culture and men of that age. It just felt like it really fit Naseem."
Episode 10, "you are naked in front of your sheikh"
Ramy and Zainab get married, but after they have sex for the first time, Ramy comes clean about his relationship with Amani, who he hooked up with again the night before the wedding. Zainab leaves in the middle of the night, and the marriage is over before it truly begins.
"Ramy has still not learned that he's being driven by his ego, and I really wanted to put him in a place where no one saves him from his ego; he still needs to deal with it and figure it out. It just needed to happen that he would be alone in that sense and have to really reckon with who he actually is. With the show, I always talk about there's who you want to be, who you actually are, and who you think you are. By the end of the finale, it's the first time that Ramy is really faced with who he actually is, and actually sees that in a real way. He literally has nowhere to run. There's nowhere left to hide, there's no one to go to. It's not in this relationship that he was trying to get refuge with Zainab, it's not with his sheikh who will take him on as a student no matter how flawed he is, it's not with running back to his cousin, it's not with anyone. He's in this place that he never thought he'd be in."
When Ramy wakes up, he finds Sheikh Ali in his hotel room instead of Zainab. Ramy insists that he doesn't know why he's like this, and the sheikh snaps, tired of his self-centered pupil. "You're dangerous," he declares. "F— you, Ramy! F— you, you little f—, you little f—ing boy. F— you, Ramy! You hurt people. F— you." The sheikh says he can't help Ramy and leaves, but will Mahershala Ali return?
"I think the way we ended things gives us an option. In terms of the realities of the world, he's a busy guy, but in terms of story, I think there's more. These two are linked in a real way, and I'm excited to explore more of that. It's such a strange feeling, like we've done 20 episodes of the show and I'm like, 'Oh, we're just getting started.' It's like, 'We haven't even really gotten into what I want to get into,' which is so odd because, again, we've made 20 of them. But I love these characters so much and we haven't gotten enough on a lot of them and we want to further explore. I'm looking forward to that, and so I hope. Inshallah that we get to do more of that."
The episode opens with a flashback to Ramy and Amani in Egypt. They've been sneaking around, and now Amani is ready to go public, but Ramy doesn't want to do anything "drastic." "I guess I didn't think that you would want to casually f— your cousin," she fires back. "I'm not going to risk everything for someone who doesn't believe in anything." Jumping ahead, following their recent hookup and his marriage falling apart, Ramy goes back to Amani and says he's ready to be with her. She can't do it, telling him to go back to his wife.
"I don't think he knows if he's truly in love with her. It's hard to give into love when you don't really even know yourself. So it's like, how could he know? I think he thinks he does. But it's too much for him to even understand right now. He's just in over his head, and I think part of it is a defense mechanism and part of it is as genuine as you can be without knowing who you are, without really facing yourself. So it's like a projection of himself is fully in love with her. We're going to have to see him finally deal with that now that he is where he is, and then we will know the truth."
With his marriage over and this news a secret from his family, Ramy has nowhere to go. In the end, he returns with Boomer to Dennis' car, settling in to either sleep or take a ride.
"It's up for interpretation. I have some thoughts to what I want to happen for this family, and I think what happened is not only going to mean something for Ramy, but it's going to mean a lot for his family. It's going to open them up to conversations that they haven't had before, so I'm excited about what the ripple of it will mean. Ramy will really be dealing with who he is in a much clearer way than we've ever seen, and having to understand what his actual connection to his faith is. It's almost like Ramy's been using his faith as a crutch, and I'm ready to see him deconstruct that and connect in more genuine ways. Ramy could love Amani, but he'd have to take apart a bunch of things to understand that he really does love her — and it's the same thing with his faith. He's still doing this egocentric performance of it. He really does mean well, and I will never take that away from him, but he needs to realize that that's not enough."